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Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

For many who regularly take part in the holiday season, Christmas traditions are strongly tied to religious beliefs and practices. The ways in which the customs around the holiday season are carried out often deeply rooted in cultural rituals and they often vary from family to family. For my Puerto Rican family, the holiday season is drawn out well past the first of January when radio stations reel back on the jingles and Mariah Carey classics. For us, the Twelve Days Of Christmas sales or songs we know of don’t relate to the days leading up to December 25, but rather the twelve days in between Christmas Day and January 6 The Epiphany, a biblical day that marks the final leg of the  Three Wise Men’s journey to deliver gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ.

Día De Los Reyes has always been an especially important day for my family. The fact that “reyes” is my mother’s maiden name has only made the day a little sweeter.

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Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

A more popular holiday back on the island, my abuela and abuelo Reyes brought their traditions to the mainland with them in the 1950s.

On the evening of January 5, each member of my family from grandfather to my youngest sobrino pull out cardboard shoe and clothing boxes (all marked with our names, drawn on and decorated over the years with crayons, markers, and glitter pens) to take part in a tradition that we hold dear in our hearts. After we’ve filled the boxes with snacks like carrots, lettuce, and sometimes grass for the Three Kings’ camels to munch on as they pass through our town we stick the boxes under our beds. Finally, just as we would with Santa Claus, we write the Three Kings–Los Reyes–a handwritten note wishing them safe travels as the journey to see the baby Jesus hoping that as they did with him on that first Epiphany, they’ll leave a small gift or token of some sort under our boxes.

Dia De Los Reyes functions similarly to Christmas Eve in my family. We all wake up and check under our boxes to see if we were good enough this year to receive any gifts. We’d go to mass together, where as kids we’d hope that maybe Los Reyes stayed in town with their camels long enough that day to be at the church community center to pose for photos. We would visit family and eat pernil and arroz con gandules, dishes reserved for celebrations and holidays.

As I got older I went to mass only sometimes and stopped looking to get my photos with Los Reyes.

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Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

I never stopped checking my box for gifts though, or remembering each rey by the names older relatives taught me to write in my letters: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As an adult I focused on new ways to celebrate “being a king,” as my family would say, and took on the role of expert coquito maker.

When I started dating and began wanting to bring boyfriends home for the holidays, part of my new role during the holiday season also unintentionally became one of both gatekeeper and teacher of my Puerto Rican culture. As a sophomore in college, I brought my then boyfriend home for December for the first time. In my household, Noche Buena, Christmas Day, New Years Day, New Year’s Eve, and Dia De Los Reyes were all days set aside for family, exclusively. I knew not to ask for exceptions, and in the past had willfully or grudgingly passed up holiday and New Years parties to honor the expectation of being en familia.

But in my twenties I badly started to yearn for my first New Years kiss and wanted, even more, to share part of my twelve days of Christmas with somebody who mattered to me.

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My parents, on the other hand, were hesitant. Dia De Los Reyes was about Los Reyes, as in my family.

My boyfriend was someone they saw a few times a year and knew of only from phone calls, letters, texts, and video chats. Someone so unfamiliar certainly wasn’t considered family, and moreover someone who wasn’t Latino couldn’t possibly understand the sanctity of the day we’d honored so lovingly all our lives.

Most concerning of all, Dia De Los Reyes is also known among some circles as “the poor man’s Christmas,” my grandparents’ explanation being that back in the days of Jesus, being a king didn’t mean wealth like it means today. It meant that the giftschildren and observers receive in their boxes today are small, like a $10 gift card, socks, some mittens, or maybe candy. The last thing my family needed was for some guy they didn’t know to reach into an old shoebox of all things, pull out socks, and think we were cheap. With some convincing and a little grumbling, my family allowed me to write my boyfriend’s name on a box, fill it with lettuce and put it under my bed on January 5.

That night as I lay in bed, I did feel nervous knowing that I was bringing somebody into such a special part of my life that no one had ever seen before outside of my parents. Earlier in the day, I made sure to explain to him how seriously my family took our family only traditions, and how it wasn’t just about the religious holiday but the namesake that ties us to one another. I felt silly as I highlighted decorating beat-up boxes as one of my favorite traditions, something I hadn’t ever admitted out loud. Quiet and reserved, he listened to my stories but didn’t ask any questions.

In the morning, I still had my family only morning mass and our opening of gifts, but later that day my boyfriend was invited over for pasteles, coquito, and the checking of his first and only Three Kings Day box.

My parents observed with critical eyes as he went through the motions of our traditions, seeming charmed by the gifts of a hat and gloves left resting on top of torn up shreds of lettuce, proof that Los Reyes had come through our house. As he followed our lead I sat hoping that by participating in the events himself, he might better understand where my love for my culture comes from, or maybe even briefly feel the same sense of childhood joy I do on that day each year. Admittedly, it was an awkward day for everyone involved and not filled with all the magic I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I still felt proud of myself for being able to break down a barrier that had long existed between myself and not only romantic connections but a friend, too.

I wanted the opportunity to show those outside of my family the part of my identity that I hadn’t always made transparent in my daily life, even if that meant that they didn’t understand or wouldn’t “get it” at first.

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Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Even though the person who got to take the test run of my family only traditions and I aren’t together anymore, a few years ago he broke the mold for being able to bring others into a part of my life I was using to shutting so many close to me out of.n Maybe he did think that of us, our gifts, or the day we celebrate as cheap, but after the fact I, didn’t care. In the years that have followed, what has mattered most to me has been that I could start sharing Reyes, this name that laid down the foundation to who I am before I was ever born, and all the nuances that come with it with those I want to know me better.

This Dia De Los Reyes will be one of a few Reyes family festivities that my current boyfriend will be participating in, and another year where my family pulls out his box and welcomes his extra cheer into our holidays. While he’s still learning about my roots, I’m still learning that I can take these moments and use them to bring myself closer to my culture and my loved ones.

Read: Twitter’s Latest Hashtag Fights Back Against The Normalization Of Death And Violence Against Migrant Youth

Miami Airbnbs To Keep You Cozy While You Avoid Your Family During the Holidays

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Miami Airbnbs To Keep You Cozy While You Avoid Your Family During the Holidays

If it hasn’t already started happening, pretty soon the nagging about buying your plane tickets back home to Miami will be cada hora, at the top of the hour. If you’re like me and you love your thriving, absurd, no-place-like-home Puerto Rican and Cuban family in Miami but you also just learned about self-care, there is a middle ground. Tell your Mami you’re coming home so she can stop lighting all the candles in the house and book an Airbnb. Check out these places to hide away while visiting family if you need a moment to breathe.

Treehouse Canopy Room: Permaculture Farm | $65 per night

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CREDIT: Leslie / Airbnb

Is your family time so crazy that you need to be one with nature to relax? Hang in the Florida canopy in Little Haiti with fresh produce, eggs, and honey on hand. When your family is driving you loco, you can feed some goats and rent a kayak.

Relaxing Cottage in Coconut Grove | $90 per night

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CREDIT: Ronni & Becca / Airbnb

Treat yourself to a place of solitude in Coconut Grove. The guest house shares a pool, waterfall and koi pond with the family in residence. Find your zen.

Charming Cottage Great Location Close to Center | $77 per night

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CREDIT: Ines / Airbnb

Stay local to Little Havana and away from the MAGA familia by supporting Ines, who says it like it is: “Together we will not build walls but a magnificent future for our children and future generations.”

CHARMING STUDIO @ THE BEACH | $79 per night

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CREDIT: Christian / Airbnb

You know when you make your mami promise you que nos vamos a la playa and then you never do? Make it your home base.

New 15th Floor Beachfront 180º Oceanview Apartment | $49 per night

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CREDIT: Shane And Maru / Airbnb

Always wanted to experience living inside a modern minimalist Instagram aesthetic? This is a super cheap way to do it within walking distance of Miami Beach. That’s right. You can see the beach from here.

New Artistic & gorgeous cottage with private yard | $79 per night

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CREDIT: Ana / Airbnb

Artists, escuchen. This loft is full of supplies for crafting and is used as a studio when desocupado. Plus, there’s an avocado tree in the backyard.

Amazing Penthouse with private pool stunning view | $2,500 per night

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CREDIT: Luxury Property / Airbnb

Maybe you’re Cardi B. Maybe you’ll enjoy seeing this to know how the other side lives. Rent this 5,600 sq foot two-story penthouse with 7 bedrooms, sauna, private gym, and indoor pool. Invite me. K, thanks.

Centrally located resort style Miami home | $269 per night

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CREDIT: Evelyn / Airbnb

You might have to go in on this with your primos, but it’ll be worth it. The 3-bedroom home is built around the pool, meaning rest and relaxation takes center stage.

Oasis Pool Home in the heart of Miami | $200 per night

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CREDIT: John / Airbnb

If you think that pool is insane, wait until you see the rest of this Balinese style home. Located in the heart of Coconut Grove, the place is big enough for you to invite your favorite cousins.

Beautiful Poolside Studio, Heart of Miami | $72 per night

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CREDIT: Deborah / Airbnb

OK, so that whole casa Azul is not yours, but you get the guest house which has access to that glorious pool. This is perfect if you want to stay close to the family in Little Havana, but have some separation.

Amazing Brickell Bay Penthouse | $99 per night

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CREDIT: Gustavo / Airbnb

Embody the mental state of “everyone is beneath me” this holiday season by staying in this modern, luxurious penthouse. If your people play their cards right, they may get access to the two pools, gym and spa you’ll have available to you.

Ocean Drive Luxury Beachfront Studio. Ocean View Pool | $104 per night

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CREDIT: Catalina / Airbnb

We’re here for the bathtub. Also the status symbol of staying at Congress Hotel in South Beach. Chill on the rooftop by the pool, overlooking the ocean and then soak in your majestic tub after. Tell your family you’re staying with friends.

Gorgeous & Spacious Mid Miami Beach | $80 per night

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CREDIT: Sandra / Airbnb

Hurry up! Sandra is booking up fast. Probably because of its tasteful ambience located right across from the boardwalk, its private pool and nearby beach available at all times.

Beachy Chic South Beach Studio Apt | $40 per night

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CREDIT: Keith and Connie / Airbnb

Mis amigos desperados. You’re not looking for a vacay. You’re on a budget and investing in your mental sanity. You canasta in South Beach for $40. ‘Nuff Said.

Cottage Oasis on the Miami River Circa 1936 | $45 per night

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CREDIT: Luis / Airbnb

This modern, little loft is on the Miami River and has a plunge pool right outside. You can also rent a long list of Porsche’s during your stay from the very same Luis.

Large Trendy 2 Bedroom in Arts District with Views | $100 per night

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CREDIT: Randy / Airbnb

Step out of Hialeah and step into Miami’s Arts District with panoramic views of Biscayne Bay. This is where the after party happens after the abuelas say their prayers to Saint Anthony for your soul lost to la fiesta.

Bayfront 5-Star Luxury Hotel-Water View Studio | $104 per night

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CREDIT: Catalina / Airbnb

This view alone is worth the dinero, but add the free beach cruiser, ocean kayaks and SUP boards, gym, yoga and Go Pro rental and you’ve invested in a Flamingo Park experience with just a taste of luchando over Longana.

Little Havana: Spacious Cottage with Beach Gear! | $79 per night

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CREDIT: Allán / Airbnb

Stay in Little Havana but feel like you’re staying in the whitest of clouds. Walk outside and you’ve got Cuban Cafés, cigar shops, and Calle Ocho to keep you company (if your family ever leaves you alone).

*TROPICAL DECO APARTMENT – Steps From The Beach* | $29 per night

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CREDIT: spb / Airbnb

Maybe you love your family? Maybe you want to return to your Miami roots for a minute. This 6 month rental is affordable, in the heart of the Art Deco district and five minute walk from the beach. Check out all those Miami sites you never did growing up. Disfrute.

30’ Sailboat, with kitchen | $76 per night

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CREDIT: Alejandro / Airbnb

OR—plan your getaway in advance by renting this sailboat. JK—you’ll have to organize day trips with Alejandro, but in the meantime, you can enjoy the solar panel operated modern luxuries with a classic sea breeze.

READ: 21 Insane Miami Airbnbs To Vacation In Forever

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